Following an encouraging three-game set at the Gildan Charleston Classic over the weekend, the UTEP men’s basketball team will play six of its next seven games in the Don Haskins Center. It all starts with a 7 p.m. Wednesday matchup against Southeastern Louisiana.
The Miners grew in leaps and bounds in Charleston after dropping the tournament opener to Wake Forest, 103-81. UTEP topped Western Michigan 85-75 and went toe-to-toe with Mississippi State before succumbing 61-54 in a game where the shots simply didn’t fall.
“I felt like we did improve throughout the course of the tournament in basically all areas,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “Overall I was very, very pleased with Dominic Artis. He is the reason for the improvement. I thought he had a terrific weekend. For us to have a good ballclub this year, both he and Omega [Harris] have to be special. They have to be all-league type players. I thought Dominic showed that he is very, very capable of doing that and being one of the better guards in the country.”
Matt Willms also demonstrated that he’s a deadly weapon if his foot can hold up.
“He was a real force on the floor in our last two games and those minutes are really going to help him and our team,” Floyd said. “The conditioning is not there. I would say he’s 50 percent right now in terms of who he is athletically, stamina-wise and confidence wise, although his confidence is on the rise. He’s got a chance to be the best big guy in our league. He’s that kind of a talent.”
Up next for the Miners (2-2) is a Southeastern Louisiana squad that is 3-1 and has demonstrated that it can both shoot (54.5 percent from the field) and score (83.5 points per game).
Senior forward Jordan Capps leads the Lions with 22 points per game, although he has played in only two of four contests and is questionable for Wednesday’s game due to injury. Minus Capps, Southeastern Louisiana received big games from Marlain Veal against Jackson State (22 points, six assists) and Moses Greenwood versus Xavier of Louisiana (23 points, 10 rebounds).
Veal, a sophomore guard, is averaging 19.5 points and 5.3 assists. Greenwood, a sophomore forward, is averaging 17.0 ppg and 6.5 rpg. He is eighth in the country in field goal percentage (.750).
“[Southeastern Louisiana Coach] Jay Ladner won a national title in junior college,” Floyd said. “He’s now regrouping here in year three and his talent level is good. They’ve got good guards, they’ve got good big guys, they defend and they’ve got a plan offensively. It’s going to be a real, real challenge for us. It’s not going to be easy coming back off the road, not practicing Monday and going limited on Tuesday. We’ll hope to play well.”
Floyd and Ladner hail from the same hometown (Hattiesburg, Miss.) and attended the same high school (Oak Grove).
“I know Jay. He’s good friends with my nephew and grew up with my nephew,” Floyd said. “He’s a good guy and his best friend, I guess in the world, is Brett Favre. He comes from a family tree that can really coach. He grew up in Kiln, Mississippi, the same town as Brett. His father was one of the legendary high school coaches in the state of Mississippi.”
After Wednesday’s game, the Miners will take a nine-day break from competition. They’re hoping to head into the break 3-2 and not 2-3.
“We’ll take a one-pointer at the buzzer. We really will,” Floyd said. “That’s kind of where we are. We’ve got to have the health of Matt Willms, and we’ve got to have tremendous guard play in order to have a chance to win this game. We’ve got to have improved shooting from a couple of guys on the perimeter. If they can knock down a couple of jump shots, it will really help. That’s something we had done very well up until our last ballgame.
“We’re going to have to defend at a high level against a team that really likes to push it and likes to set a lot of screens. They’ve got a dynamic guard and a terrific inside player, guys that could play all day for us. This will be a great test for us going into the break.”